Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

Kathleen Babineaux Blanco ORG XMIT: BAT1604241543200474

Photo provided by Girl Scouts Louisiana

As she herself put it in a typically gracious column in Sunday's Advocate, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco is in the fight of her life against the cancer that she beat once, only to see it return and invade her liver.

Here's what people need to know about Blanco: Nobody fights harder.

I saw this first hand as a journalist covering hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the long aftermath.

It wasn't apparent during those first horrific days, as she seemed as shell-shocked as the rest of us. Nor was it necessarily obvious when the finger-pointing started, when Blanco let damaging insinuations from both the White House and New Orleans City Hall go unanswered. Blanco didn't engage, to her political detriment, and people around her have long argued that it was because she didn't think it right while so many people were suffering.

Throughout the long recovery, some people continued to underestimate her, to think she was not up to the state's many challenges, to wonder aloud whether Bobby Jindal, her vanquished 2003 opponent, might have done better. That may have been a holdover from the initial storm, or a response to how long things were taking, or perhaps even a reaction to her sometimes unsteady voice. A year and a half after the flood, the superhero-themed Krewe of Muses parade spoofed Blanco not as Wonder Woman but as "Wondering Woman," flummoxed by crises large and small.

Over time, I came to see how wrong that image was.

I saw it as she wrestled with the Road Home, a massive homeowner aid program that had to be invented from scratch. She and her people made countless mistakes along the way — some motivated by concern that Louisiana's reputation for fraud could undermine national confidence — but kept at it. Headlines at the time told of rampant, entirely justified frustration, but ultimately, tens of thousands of property owners were able to move into newly renovated and, in many cases, safer homes. The program paid 130,000 homeowners a total of $9 billion, with 119,000 of those recipients promising to rebuild and reoccupy their homes within three years. Most did.

And I really saw it in her dogged pursuit of Louisiana's share of federal aid from a reluctant, suspicious administration and Congress.

Despite some clear instances of disrespect, Blanco went to Washington again and again, and raised hell over the fact that Mississippi, which had a Republican governor and relatively more clout, got proportionally more initial funding for its recovery program. Her recovery authority fought back by compiling hard data demonstrating Louisiana's larger needs.

She went back for more when it turned out the initial Road Home's estimated costs were vastly underestimated.

And she stayed on it even after she bowed to electoral reality and her own exhaustion and declared she wouldn't seek reelection in 2007, a decision that made Jindal the instant front-runner. Politically, the program's failures were about to be his problem. But she never stopped fighting for her people to be made whole, and shortly before leaving office, she landed the money she'd spent years seeking.

Even people on the other side of her entreaties testified to her fighting spirit. One was Donald Powell, a banker who was the Bush administration's point person on recovery. Powell said at farewell dinner for Blanco that her preparation, her sincerity and her tirelessness won him over. All that time she was coming at him, he said, "never once did I doubt that she was trying to get what was best for the people of Louisiana. Not once."

A newly elected Jindal showed up that night as well, and he too lauded Blanco's single-minded pursuit of federal funds. He also noted her record on education — an area where she sometimes bucked her own supporters to pursue reforms — and noted that she'd run a scandal-free administration.

Like them, I sometimes disagreed with her, but never once doubted her motives or her devotion to the constituents she served. In the end, I never questioned her strength.

In her one term of governor, Blanco gave the people of this state everything she had. Now, as she faces her next big fight, she's asking for their thoughts and prayers.

All I can say is that she's certainly got mine.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.